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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Expelling astronomer Gonzalez called one of Iowa State's "Missteps"

In an encomium on Iowa State University in the DesMoines Register today, retired accounting prof Gary Maydew lists some missteps, among them:
- Abridgment of academic freedom. In the early 1940s dairy farmers in Iowa wanted to forbid the publication of a report that oleomargarine was just as nutritious as butter. Ted Schultz, an agricultural economics professor, insisted that the report be published in the name of academic freedom. The administration did not support him. He eventually resigned in protest and went to the University of Chicago, where he had a stellar career, winning the Nobel Prize in 1979.

More recently, ISU failed to grant tenure to Guillermo Gonzalez, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, though his research record was solid. Failure to attain tenure is a familiar occurrence at strong research universities. However, the circumstances surrounding his tenure denial were troubling. Gonzalez stirred controversy by advocating the study of intelligent design, which theorizes that the complexity of life suggests the existence of a higher being.

Great universities need to support academic freedom and encourage thinking outside the box, regardless of whether faculty subscribe to prevailing wisdom. ISU's refusal to grant Gonzalez tenure creates a perception that academic freedom at ISU applies only to those holding main stream religious or agnostic beliefs.

Actually, the existence of a higher being IS a "main stream religious" belief, but never mind. Gonzalez had to go because he knew facts that do not support atheism.

NO ONE makes a big-budget movie about faith and science bores

Recently, some friends were upset by a faith-and-science prof who was ruminating about how that awful Expelled film was ruining his tea party.

Well, first, no one makes a movie about people like that prof. Filmmakers look for heroes and resisters, not pettifoggers and yes-men.

I wrote back to my friends to say,
I’ve covered many public controversies in my time, and here is my take on this one:

Atheists in top science posts are waging an all out war against the reality of a designed universe.

Against any scientist who knows the facts and is unwilling to keep quiet or spout the party line (or some harmless “theistic” version thereof) is a target. Anyone – especially an identified theist – who attacks that scientist will be rewarded.

That is the one and only true conflict we are witnessing. Everyone who is at all relevant sorts himself in relation to that conflict.

And – this should be no surprise - many well-meaning Christian profs are taking money, and accepting perks and plaudits, to be on the top science atheists’ side, whether they recognize it or not. It comes out in the pettifogging, belaboured style they adopt when writing about issues for which, increasingly, only NAMES are even necessary:

Sternberg. Marks. Gonzalez. Crocker.

So then what happens? Well, life is fairer than some think.

People who tell a story or make a film choose to write about the Resistance, NOT about the Accommodation.

And the average devout Christian or Muslim or Jew is far more attracted to the Resistance than to the Accommodation.

When talking to average people, here is all I say: The universe and life forms look designed. That should be no surprise because the Bible says they are. And reason tells us that we should expect to see the evidence.

Top atheists find it an embarrassment and a problem. So those Expelled scientists got in trouble for crossing them.

But what would we expect? A rose petal parade?

Still, we must stop the persecution. The film was made to help with that.

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Fun with David Berlinski: The Devil sketches what we do not know

In The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, mathematician David Berlinski takes on the shape of what we do not know:
We know better than we did what we do not know and have not grasped. We do not know how the universe began. We do not know why it is there. Charles Darwin talked speculatively of life emerging from a "warm little pond." The pond is gone. We have little idea how life emerged, and cannot with assurance say that tit did. We cannot reconcile our understanding of the human mind with any trivial theory about the manner in which the brain functions. Beyond the trivial, we have no other theories. We can say nothing of interest about the human soul. We do not know what impels us to right conduct or where the form of the good is found.

On these and many other points as well, the great scientific theories have lapsed. The more sophisticated the theories, the more inadequate they are. This is a good reason to cherish them. They have enlarged and not diminished our sense of the sublime. (p. xiii-iv)

One pictures the devil sitting opposite, turning over his now-empty glass ...

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